Many business leaders will be familiar with the adage: “on time, on budget, no defects – choose one.” Today’s consumers, however, aren’t satisfied unless they get all three. E-commerce has lifted customer expectations of delivery speed, cost and quality, and retailers and manufacturers alike face growing difficulty in keeping up.
Can businesses give the e-commerce generation – made up predominantly of millennials and younger consumers – everything they want? Doing so is possible, yet requires a radical rethink of certain aspects of customer service and the supply chain. By tapping on the successes of forerunners in e-commerce sales, today’s retailers and manufacturers can ensure the e-commerce generation can have their cake – on time – and eat it, too.
Put quality before price
A word of caution – retailers can’t expect to transition into omnichannel success stories overnight. Some of the world’s largest e-commerce players, like Amazon and Alibaba, took years or even decades to achieve market superiority despite the myth that they sprung up quickly. And even these giants don’t always succeed in giving customers what they want; just look at Amazon’s much-hyped arrival in Australia, which struggled with ongoing supply chain and fulfilment delays immediately after launch.
In fact, the first and best thing that retailers can do is invest in the quality of their products. The higher the manufacturing quality and the better the customer support, the more likely the e-commerce generation is to seek them out – and pay a premium price for both the product and its delivery, particularly if its supply is limited.
Quality products also tend to suit a far wider and more lucrative range of channels. STM Goods, for example, sells its premium tech accessories through their own online shopfront, Amazon’s marketplace, as well as Apple stores, with the latter renowned for the strictness of their vendor requirements. Simply being available in Apple’s stores gives STM’s products extra cachet amongst consumers, boosting their sales across every other sales platform.
Keep your goods moving
The second thing retailers can do is consolidate how they manage their inventory across multiple channels. Alongside pure-play e-commerce, many retailers are (rightly) opting for fulfilment models that take advantage of their existing bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, like the ‘click and collect’ model that retailers like Harvey Norman and Myer have adopted. Yet each new hybrid channel adds a new set of requirements for supply chain operators at an ever-increasing speed.
The question is, what would be the best way to overcome this complexity? The answer, integrate all inventory and service channels into a single management platform. With a real-time view of inventory across all channels, retailers can strike the balance between selling too much (and running out of stock) or ending up with obsolete products on their hands. This information should also flow through to supply chain and distribution functions, automatically alerting operators when orders have been picked and are ready for shipping. Modern cloud ERP platforms are much more likely to integrate well, not only with third-party logistics providers but also into the final element of the e-commerce trifecta: customer service.
Turn customers into advocates
Today, the e-commerce generation interacts with brands across more channels than ever before. Several channels did not even exist until a few years ago. And while millennials tend to favour social media and online self-service channels – making them a must for any retailer – they’re even more receptive to what other consumers are saying. Product reviews, forum discussions and social media feedback all contribute to the long-term sales performance and success of any retailer, no matter what channels they use.
High-quality products and fast, cost-effective delivery are key to increasing brand loyalty. The savvy retailers take this a step further by building their own online communities – and establishing a presence in existing ones, like forums and chat groups – where they can cultivate one-time customers into long-time advocates.
When operating across multiple channels, customer service teams need real-time access to inventory and order data if they’re to respond to customer feedback ranging from urgent to combative. The same ERP platform which powers the supply chain, can also keep the front-line representatives in the know once fully integrated with other platforms, like CRM, that support teams that already rely upon them for timely and accurate information.
By investing in the quality of their product manufacturing and taking on cloud-based ERP platforms which can scale across a growing range of channels and geographies, retailers can – and some already are – meeting the demands of the e-commerce generation. Delivering high-quality products and customer experiences, on time and at the right price, will constantly challenge retailers, no matter how sophisticated they become. Playing to their existing strengths and creating strong foundations at the inventory and order-tracking level, retailers can consistently do the near impossible: give the e-commerce generation what it wants.